If Harajuku is the mecca for the hip young, Sugamo is where it’s at for the elderly.
Widely known as “Granny’s Harajuku,” Sugamo — a Toshima Ward shopping street and its vicinity — has developed as a host town of Koganji Temple.
The temple’s main deity is Togenuki Jizo, a thorn-picking child deity. Legend has it that in the early 18th century a woman who accidentally swallowed a sewing needle was saved by eating a piece of paper printed with the jizo’s image.
Since then, each year the temple has seen more than 1 million visitors seeking the deity’s help in various problems, particularly thorny relationships.
The area becomes especially crowded with old folks on the fourth, 14th and 24th of every month when the “jizo fair” is held. Each day brings between 40,000 and 100,000 visitors to the area.
But not all the visitors are religious pilgrims. Many come to the town seeking camaraderie and to enjoy the senior-friendly shopping environment.
Area stores do all they can to accommodate older shoppers. One chain drugstore elsewhere popular with the young sports denture cleaners and muscle painkillers out front. Meanwhile, most shops print their prices in larger characters and post them at lower heights to catch the eyes of elderly shoppers.
At Sugamo Shinkin, a local credit union, graying citizens line up by the lobby elevators to chat over tea and snacks on the days of the fair.
Located midway between the shopping street and JR Sugamo Station, the bank began allowing shoppers to use its bathroom about 10 years ago after learning it was difficult for the seniors to find a place to go.
Later, the credit union decided to open the third-floor hall for visitors, serving free green tea and rice crackers, and inviting comedians to entertain them.
The idea proved very successful. For each event, the 350-seat hall is filled beyond capacity with about 1,500 to 2,000 people.
“Most of them are regulars coming back to the town on days of the fair,” said bank employee Mikio Murayama.
Takako Sakekawa, 72, of Yokohama said she visits the temple and hall every fair day to communicate with people of her generation.
Murayama said each event costs the bank around 200,000 yen and has no direct impact on business. “But we never considered terminating the offer,” he said. “There are too many who look forward to it.”
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